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Why Are There Electricity Supply Problems in Kyrgyzstan?

Wednesday 20 May 2015, by Shohruh ABDUALLAEV

Central Asia is said to be rich for water glacier resources. Water is sometimes measured more than oil. This fact is indeed real. The conflict on water is going on through decades between up- and downstream countries. Upstream countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, are accused with manipulation of water supply; especially during summer time when downstream countries, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are in need of it for irrigation system.

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Kurpsai dam July 2012
(Photo: HylgeriaK. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons)

Water is sometimes a source of conflict when it is not managed and distributed properly. Water is a source of several things, for instance electricity. It might seem ridiculous to any outer people if they find out that Central Asian population, particularly populations of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and especially Tajikistan. The current paper will be covering electricity supply problems in the case of Kyrgyzstan, the second largest producer of water in the region. Having a huge potential to generate and even export energy to other countries, Kyrgyzstan is facing energy supply shortage within the country and contradictions with its neighbouring countries. The paper includes two parts which are to highlight the causes of above-mentioned problems and a possible step-by-step agenda to overcome or mitigate the impacts of the whole situation.

1. JURAEV Shairbek, “Energy Emergency in Kyrgyzstan: Causes and Consequences”, Centre for European Policy Studies, 2009.

Kyrgyzstan energy supply line is connected to a regional energy distributor which is situated in Kazakhstan. It is a regional hub where the electricity is distributed to China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan tried to exit because of ‘dependency’ on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, main electricity producers and exporters. Although, Kyrgyzstan experienced electricity shortages during harsh winter time in 2007 which is followed by the decrease of water level in Toktogul reservoir, one of the largest ones in the region situated in Jalalabad. It caused drop in energy producing compared to the previous year.1

2. KRAVSTOV Nikolai, Electricity Losses in the Distribution companies of Kyrgyzstan, presented to Establishing a dialogue on Fuel and Energy Sector Transparency Initiative International Conference, Bishkek, September 26-27, 2011.

As it was mentioned already, Kyrgyzstan is facing electricity shortage and there are several reasons. One of the most significant causes to mention is internal issues within power supplying and distributing companies which are unable to implement all their obligations. Improper distribution leads to electricity losses and illegal actions (theft) by the companies. Improper measuring facilities and falsified data reporting2 are the main causes of companies’ failure to implement commitment.

As it was mentioned above, Kyrgyzstan power supply line is connected to a regional power hub because the country has no capability to supply electricity. Common power distribution hub requires from the countries connected mutual understanding and commitment which lack in the region. Because of disagreements (or failure to implement commitments thought there are some agreements) between specific states, especially with Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, there is no doubt that such condition is a very good ground for supply problems. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan fail to reach an agreement concerning electricity importing and distributing which are caused by other political and social tensions between them. For instance, the two states have bad relations on trans-boundary water distribution of Syrdarya, especially in summer time, when Kyrgyzstan tries to keep water in reservoirs; and releases in winter when Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan do not need water. This situation bears some tensions between two countries. Moreover, they cannot reach agreement with Kazakhstan as a host of the power supply hub.This happens because Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are unable to operate power grids in parallel during winter months without overburdening regional system.3 The equipment and constructions existing on the territory of all Central Asian post-Soviet states are of decades of exploitation and most of extremely need to be completely modernized.

4. ABDURASULOVA N., KRAVSOV N., “Electricity Governance in Kyrgyzstan: An Institutional Assessment”, Civic Environmental Foundation UNISON, 2009; p. 129 (Figure 2).

Another issue is how electricity is provided to consumers and its stages and levels. Electricity goes through 4 stages of distribution in the country in order to reach the final consumer4. In my opinion, multi-cascade stages also impact on the quality and amount of supply. Many thefts of electricity in the distribution companies bear problems for population.

Besides all the above-mentioned problems, there are other minor problems as well. However, the in the following paragraph(s) the author will try to give some measures how to overcome them or mitigate their negative impact.

First of all, Kyrgyz authorities should review its legislature concerning the power supply which lacks and are constantly violated. Because of internal instable situation in the country no responsible authority tends to better the legislation or apply some changes into it; all because of the fear of the next riots which are used to be almost casual in Kyrgyzstan. In the periphery areas there are more electricity cuts compared with central cities, so this kind of situation may easily bear another riot; and every newcomer government can’t refuse but take into consideration.

Modernizing equipment and technology in the power distribution companies and electricity-measuring facilities in apartments is important and should also be re-installed due to overpaying and loss of a great amount of money. Investing into the improvement of facilities is of a great importance.

Touching upon regional perspective, Kyrgyzstan should review its international agreements with its neighbours on production and distribution of electricity; especially, it will be significant to implement if Kambarata HPP to be built as it is facing political tensions with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on distribution of trans-boundary river, Amudarya. It also shares regional power hub in Kazakhstan, it can’t wait ignoring its external relations. In order to reach mutual agreement, Kyrgyzstan should agree on water distribution of Amudarya with its down-stream neighbours. Exact amount of water to be allocated for each country and personal use of water for the purpose of electricity production are vital factors of Kyrgyz energy sector. Taking in to consideration that Kyrgyzstan opens its reservoirs and produces electricity in winter, which is not so much favoured by both down-stream countries which prefer the water to be flown in summer for irrigation, mutual construction and utilization of multi-dam projects will contribute to peacefully share the water for any purpose.

Moreover, Kyrgyzstan should better its personnel, specialists and experts in the sphere who are capable of utilization and dealing with new technological facilities. Lacking specialists is another obstacle for electricity distribution with quality. Having taught and practiced personnel in different companies dealing with power production will be relevant to overcome this issue.

Creation of a friendly-investing environment in Kyrgyzstan, especially in energy sector, will contribute to the developing sector as there is a big amount of water in the country. Attracting foreign investment and creating a regional heaven for investments to energy sector might also cover bettering other aspects of the problem as well which the author mentioned already.

Generally speaking, Kyrgyzstan is facing electricity shortage problems because of solvable factors such as bureaucratic factors, lacking of sufficient specialists in the field, and financial problems, i.e. political tension inside the country, expected riots which are not allowing to review the legislature because of fear of opposition and to be overthrown; electricity thefts by the companies; and investment-lacking sector. As the author already came up with the proposals which can be done to overcome the issue or mitigate the impacts of it, current government should seriously pay attention to all aspects of the problem because every constructive decision it will make concerning the problems in the sector would ‘fill holes’ in the system. Solution of one issue might not be relevant, and if it fails it will produce another wave of opposition by the population.

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